INTHEBLACK November 2023 - Magazine - Page 45
Words Amanda Woodard
THERE WILL BE OCCASIONS IN PEOPLE’S
professional lives when they have the difficult
task of delivering bad news. They may need to
deliver it to clients, staff, colleagues and even
their managers – in person or remotely, one-onone or to teams.
While it may be tempting to rush, the delivery
may have a dramatic impact on the recipient.
Effective communication skills are essential.
What is said, how and where all need to
be carefully planned. It is also well worth
anticipating and preparing for the variety of
responses to the message.
Leadership and coaching expert Mark
Herbert says that, in difficult situations, it pays
to remember that everyone is human and that
kindness is necessary.
“Come from a position of caring, particularly
when the message is around redundancy or
restructuring,” he recommends.
Herbert, who previously worked in finance,
was motivated to move into coaching after
witnessing how often people’s interpersonal
skills let them down.
“I have seen it happen numerous times to
individuals where badly delivered news has
dragged their self-esteem down a slippery slope
from which they never recover – or it takes them
a long time,” says Herbert.
HOW TO DELIVER THE MESSAGE
People appreciate leaders being authentic
and truthful, says organisational psychologist
“People need to hear the facts in crisis
situations, so they can move their emotions
to a more rational space. Improving your
interpersonal skills by learning how to deliver
clear information authentically allows people to
process and understand the why, what and how
this will affect them,” Vershaw says.
Avoid “sugar coating” bad news with small
talk to ease into the conversation, she says.
This will confuse the other person about why
the meeting is scheduled, and it can appear
Time and place also matter. When
delivering bad news to an individual, it is best
to find a time that is convenient for them in a
place where the discussion will not be rushed
or interrupted. Face-to-face is considered
respectful and is preferable to remote
communication or email.
Consider how the information is likely
to be received. If bad news comes without
warning, the shock may make people angry. It
is important to let people vent as the first step
to healing, says Vershaw. “Acknowledge their
emotions and show compassion. Don’t try to
shut them down and move directly to action.”
The fear of having to deal with people’s raw
emotions often leads to managers bottling up
their own feelings and coming across as robots,
“I was brought up in a family where it was
OK to cry and show your emotions. You can’t
be authentic and genuinely care about people
without getting upset. There is no winner here.
It’s bad being the person receiving bad news, and
it’s bad being the messenger,” Herbert explains.
There may be several weeks or even months
leading up to a difficult conversation or a major
announcement, such as layoffs. As the day
approaches, the person tasked with delivering
the bad news could be affected both mentally
and physically. This is why it is important for
leaders to exercise compassion not only to the
recipients of bad news, but also to themselves.
THE NEED FOR EMPATHY
Developing empathy and putting yourself in the
shoes of other people is a key skill.